At the end of September, Airbus’ A340 laminar-flow “BLADE” test demonstrator aircraft (A340-300 MSN001), dubbed the “Flight Lab”, made its first flight from the Tarbes aerodrome in France. The aircraft took off at 11.00 local time and landed at Airbus’ facilities in Toulouse Blagnac after 3hrs/38mins.

The successful maiden flight was for the EU-sponsored Clean Sky BLADE project, which stands for “Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe”. The project aims to test the possibility of introducing this innovative technology for commercial aviation. The “Flight Lab” is the first test aircraft in the world that combines a transonic laminar wing profile with a standard aircraft internal primary structure.

The overall aim of the innovation is to reduce the ecological footprint of aviation by a 50% reduction of wing friction and up to five percent lower CO2 emission.

Airbus’ A340 is fitted with two representative transonic laminar outer-wings, and a highly complex specialist flight-test-instrumentation (FTI) station. The modifications to the aircraft took 16 months of hard work and a team of 10 specially trained pilots, test engineers and flight test engineers also spent months in a simulator to prepare themselves for the iconic flight on 26 September 2017.

“We began by opening the flight envelope to check that the aircraft was handling correctly,” explains Airbus Flight-Test Engineer, Philippe Seve, who was on board the flight. “We achieved our objective to fly at the design Mach number, at a reasonable altitude and check everything was fine. We also checked that the FTI was working as expected, to identify further fine-tuning for the next flights.”

It is expected that the “Flight Lab” will perform 150 flight hours in the following months testing the tolerances and imperfections related to building and using a laminar wing.